Drawing lessons for planning climate resilient coastal cities

Divya Sharma and Rozita Singh, Centre for Research on Sustainable Urban Development and Transport Systems (TERI)

The east coast of India is vulnerable to climate impacts like sea level rise and extreme events like cyclones and storm surges. Visakhapatnam is one of the largest cities in the State of Andhra Pradesh, which is situated on this coast. It is one of the five major harbours of the country, housing a naval base, two major ports and many important industries. Between 1891 and 2012, Andhra Pradesh was affected by 73 cyclones. Of these 73 Cyclones, Visakhapatnam has been hit seven times. The recent cyclone, Hudhud, was the third in the span of a year that has hit the Indian coast. The cyclone that affected the states of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha caused huge damage to life, property and infrastructure in the city of Visakhapatnam (estimated to be $11 billion).

While the city is gearing up for rehabilitation of affected people and restoration of infrastructure and services, this event leads us to ask a few pertinent questions: Could the way infrastructure is located and built in the city play a role in reducing the damage caused? Considering the extreme vulnerability of coastal cities to climate impacts and hazards, should we not design stringent development norms and land use planning practices that are cognisant of vulnerable locations and climate related design and construction parameters? Should coastal cities not start planning for climate resilience, slowly but strictly integrating and mainstreaming climate resilient systems into their planning framework and functioning mechanisms?

Even before this cyclone took place, the Centre for Research on Sustainable Urban Development and Transport Systems (TERI) undertook a study in 2013-2014 to address some of the questions posed above. The study was granted under USAID’s Climate Change Resilient Development (CCRD) project’s Climate Adaptation Small Grants Programme. It focused on assessing the impact of sea level rise and storm surges on the infrastructure and services in coastal cities. The study was conducted in two cities – Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh and Panaji, the capital city of the State of Goa. The year-long assessment led to identification of vulnerable locations due to sea level rise and storm surges in Visakhapatnam – highlighting the areas in and around Visakhapatnam Port, railway station, HPCL Refinery, Visakhapatnam Steel Plant, NTPC Plant, Gangavaram Port and the airport as vulnerable locations. The vulnerability mapping, which was a spatial exercise in the study, also predicted that the impact of storm surges may be felt as far inland as Gopalapatnam in the north and Srinagar, Sramikanagar in the south of the city. Based upon the vulnerability assessment, the study identified critical infrastructure and services that are at risk due to climate impacts and provided structural, strategic, policy and institutional recommendations for increasing the adaptive capacity at city level.

The study has also resulted in a Database Management System (DBMS) which records sector based information on infrastructure assets and services in the city. It also contains colour coded data fields that the city must maintain for initiating resilience planning. This tool has been passed back to the urban local bodies (ULBs) in both cities with an endeavour that it could be refined in consultation with multiple departments to include several other infrastructure planning parameters, as relevant to the particular city.

Ironically, while cyclone Hudhud was making its way towards the city of Visakhapatnam, the results and recommendations of the study were being unveiled in a National Conference in New Delhi. Once the city and its citizens are back on track, it would be worthwhile to draw out lessons and consider bringing in climate concerns in development planning. A review of the Master Plan and City Development Plan (CDP) of the city taking cognisance of studies like that conducted by TERI could be carried out with the purpose of revising some of the development norms on the basis of vulnerability to climate impacts. Identification of various city and district level departments and state line departments and drawing up appropriate institutional synergies between them would also go a long way in ensuring integrated climate resilient development.


To read the detailed recommendations and access the study documents, please visit this link: http://bitly.com/YKhtzO